Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
Content warning for the discussion of self-harm and suicide ideation in this episode. This isn't anything new for Wonder Egg Priority, but considering the graphic nature of this episode in particular, I wanted to preface it here.
Rika's dark night of the soul begins with smeared lipstick and ends with a stale birthday cake. Her life doesn't magically improve. She doesn't exorcise her demons. She barely exorcises the demon haunting her egg ward. She is as weak as ever when she wakes up for her cruddy midnight snack—a whimper of a fanfare for her brush with self-annihilation. Yet in her own way, she leaves this episode stronger than she's ever been, tempered by her physical and emotional wanderings. Wonder Egg Priority's most singularly-focused episode to date intently follows Rika on her journey, scrutinizing her through the lenses of her various relationships, and tempting her with some its bleakest material yet. This is a tough episode to watch, in a series already rough with the painful burrs of trauma, but it also celebrates the meaningfully small triumphs that pull us out of our darkest moments.
Rika loves her dad.
Rika's most superficial relationship is also the one she's the most fixated on: her dad. She's already quoted him in past episodes, and this week she reveals that his voice is actually her only memory of him. Because Rika is fundamentally unhappy with her life, her dad becomes a convenient target to project all of her dreams of a better life onto. She's also not an idiot, so she probably recognizes that this is what she's doing. She knows all too well how terrible people can be, and I'm sure she's imagined some very good reasons for why her dad abandoned her and why her mom won't help her find him. But she still needs hope, and that hope both sustains her and tears her apart.
Rika hates her mom.
Rika's relationship with her mom is unsurprisingly rough, but not quite in the way I had been expecting. Rika sees her mom as the destination of a path to adulthood she desperately wants to avoid traveling. Despite priding herself as the most mature member of the group, she's just as confused and frustrated by the hypocrisies of the adult world as the rest of her friends. At the same time, though, as much as she says she hates her mother, she can't extricate herself from her. She rolls her eyes at Momoe's insistence that she speak more kindly about her, but what really sets her off is Neiru's suggestion that she and her mom are codependent. She hits a nerve, because Rika knows that she's right.
Neither Rika nor her mom are fundamentally irredeemable people, so neither of them can outright dismiss the other. They each harm themselves, and this self-destruction drives a wedge between them that, at the same time, lets them cope with the presence of that wedge. While Rika's mom is clearly an alcoholic, she also runs a bar that keeps a roof over their heads, and she doesn't abuse Rika. Parental alcoholism is often sensationalized graphically in media (and it can be violent, make no mistake), but there are a number of ways it manifests. Sometimes it's just uncomfortable and pitiable. Sometimes it forces a child to be the responsible one, taking care of their parent while still wracked with the fundamental helplessness of a child. No single incident might be horrible enough to force the issue, but the accumulation of these smaller despairs can take its toll, and it certainly does on Rika.
That's why I absolutely love the conclusion to this episode: Rika's mom tries to drunkenly guilt trip her daughter, and Rika refuses to placate her. She will leave her one day. Just not yet. It's a beautifully nuanced acceptance of the relationship they have now—one they still both need—and a recognition of its mutual toxicity. Rika will absolutely need her independence, for her own sake, and her mom also seems to know that this will be for the best. It might even be best for her mom as well. Anecdotally, I've never had a bad relationship with my parents, but I also know that it demonstrably improved once I started living on my own. Either way, though, this is an important moment that proves Rika has matured enough to be both firm and compassionate in equal measure.
Rika loves her friends.
This episode also supports the series' developing thesis that the best chance any of these girls have lies in their friendship—to an extent. We see cracks and friction this week, which are inevitable in even the strongest relationships, but there are also plenty of wonderful moments. I love, for instance, how Ai reaches out and invites Rika to commiserate with her about their crappy single moms. Wonder Egg Priority definitely has sympathy for the difficulties of single motherhood, but it also has sympathy for the difficulties it imposes on the children. Rika's able to bond with Ai in a serious, pretenseless way that she can't do with Momoe and her presumably happy home life. While Momoe brings up a good point about Rika's mom still being her own person with her own interiority, she doesn't have the lived experience to meet Rika in the middle of her despair.
Meanwhile, every subsequent revelation about Neiru's home life seems more worrying than the last. If her parents were absent, did her sister raise her? Did capitalism raise her? Was she a boss baby? This also suggests another reason why she has more trouble socializing than the rest of the egg defenders. Even if her attempt to advise Rika collapses like a bad soufflé, it does lead to one of my favorite moments in this episode. And I mean, of course Momoe is the one to reassure Neiru that she shouldn't abide by any pressure to conform to whatever “female society” is. She knows too well what it feels like to not be considered a woman, and she's quick to turn that pain into support for her friend. This is the kind of intersectional solidarity I want to see out of Wonder Egg Priority's priorities.
Rika hates herself.
However, in her darkest moment, Rika's friends can't save her, and she can't save herself either. They are, after all, still children. There aren't magic words they can chant in unison to banish Rika's depression. Rika can't make her scars disappear. She can't make her mom stop drinking. She can't drag her dad back into her life, and even if she could, she can't guarantee he'd be a good or willing part of it. She feels lonely, unloved, upset, and scared. She cuts herself after promising not to. She thinks about dying.
This is the “temptation of death” that the Acca bros talked about a few weeks ago. It's not, as they said, something that appeals only to women, but it is real, and here it's being peddled by a cult leader. Cults are insidious precisely because they prey on pervasive inequalities and inadequacies in society. People fall through the cracks only to get trampled upon whenever they try to crawl out. Of course they're going to become desperate enough to listen to someone who promises them release, however absurd it might be (even as absurd as talking mannequins promising the resurrection of a friend). Why wouldn't Rika heed the words of a girl who suffered the same way she did? The episode dilates to an agonizing pace, and Rika sinks deeper into her suicidal ideation. As the blood trickled down her arm with viscous, horrifying inevitability, I felt the most upset I've been so far watching Wonder Egg Priority. Her friends weren't getting through. The Accas weren't lifting a finger. The walls were closing in. She had given up.
But Rika doesn't die. Mannen slams into her depressive cocoon like a dumb oversized clown turtle and snaps her out of her daze when nobody and nothing else could. Sometimes, salvation is that silly and simple. And it's no fantasy that pets can help assuage depression. Theirs is a wholly unique relationship, and just the thought of another creature depending on you can be enough to stave off our darkest temptations. Earlier in the episode, Rika only cut herself after dismissing Mannen. She couldn't do it in front of him then, and she can't give up on herself in front of him now. She's fueled, as always, by the desire to be better than her mother. However, she also deliberately chooses her mother's—not her father's—words when it comes time to fight back against the Wonder Killer. If Rika is going to accept herself, weaknesses and all, then that means she has to accept her mother as well.
Rika's acceptance of her own weakness is the subtly gorgeous note that this fight concludes on, and I love it for all the things that it doesn't immediately solve. She's still going to live with her alcoholic mother. She's still going to argue with her friends. She might still pine after her dad. She might still cut herself. But she's going to keep pushing forward regardless of her weaknesses. It's a victory as tiny as it is tremendous. And I think this goes a long way towards not belittling the episode's graphic evocation and depiction of self-harm and suicide. If Rika had been able to completely overcome her depression, that would've felt too tidy and hollow—an empty feel-good promise built on a shaky foundation of pulpy sensationalism. The conclusion we get feels so much more realistic in its smallness, and so much more powerful for it.
One step at a time.
Every week, I watch Wonder Egg Priority tackle a wall thick enough to stop even the most stone-muscled linebacker, and each week I watch it pulverize its way through to the next obstacle, with nary a crack in its shell. This was a fantastic enough episode to be my favorite, just like all of the previous episodes. This one in particular is exceptional in its mundanity, with long stretches of dialogue focused just on Rika's psyche and home life, and with hardly any new developments towards the overarching plot. I love that! Maybe it will backfire when it comes time for the series to conclude, but I appreciate WEP's willingness to devote so much of its limited time to character development and nothing else. Rika's journey is compelling, devastating, inspiring, and still in progress, and I hope it speaks to the people who need it the most.
Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!
- I can't help but imagine how different a show this would be if it had let Rika die. Madoka Magica would have let Rika die. And as much as I like Madoka, I'm very glad Wonder Egg Priority is something else entirely.
- Speaking of, please check out Adam's article about the legacy of late-night so-called “dark” magical girl stories, and where WEP fits into their future.
- I have to applaud the absolutely impeccable casting of Jouji “Kotomine Kirei” Nakata as the creepy cult leader. Weirdly compelling freak priests are the roles his voice was born to play.
- This episode also raises the interesting issue of egg wards who don't seem to regret their deaths. We already had the woman who deceived Neiru with her hair, but this girl actively works against Rika and almost kills her. Once again, I can't help but feel this whole egg system is bad for literally everyone involved. Except the Acca bros. They're having fun playing on their Nintendo.
- More insightful flower language analysis from Emily as always. And hey, looks like I was kinda right about those marigolds after all.
- I hope everyone's egg homework went better than mine! I tried my hand at some Tampopo-style omurice, but failed big time on the omelet part. I was able to salvage it into some scrambled eggs, but getting that technique right is tricky! Also, since I failed, I'm giving everyone else in the class an A+. No homework for next week, but keep our good egg girls in your hearts.
Wonder Egg Priority is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
Steve is thinking about those eggs. Please direct all egg and egg-related inquiries towards his Twitter
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